Project preserves Holocaust survivors’ memories

· 3 min read

Project preserves Holocaust survivors’ memories

Ari Kohen
Beth Dotan and Ari Kohen

“It is the ordinary people that we must convince of the necessity – the obligation to remember the Holocaust,” wrote Irving Shapiro of Gering, Nebraska. His family’s lone Holocaust survivor, Shapiro understood the importance of telling his painful story.

To preserve Shapiro’s and other survivors’ memories, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln developed the website Nebraska Stories of Humanity: Holocaust Survivors and World War II Veterans, a digital collection of historical documentation and memorabilia.

The multidisciplinary digital humanities project records the experiences of Holocaust survivors who made Nebraska home as well as Nebraskans who helped liberate the concentration camps.

As the number of living survivors dwindles, the website is a valuable learning tool for future generations. It features searchable letters, documents, photos, interactive maps and other artifacts.

Photo of items Beate Stern (Bea Karp) carried throughout the war in a bundle.

“The disparate materials highlight the stories of people who were our neighbors. They weren’t just Holocaust survivors. They were people who made lots of contributions as refugees and immigrants in Nebraska,” said project leader Beth Dotan, who will receive her doctorate Dec. 16 from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education.

Personal narratives draw people into the experience and provide insight into the genocide’s legacy, said project co-leader Ari Kohen, Schlesinger Professor of Social Justice and director of the Norman and Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies.

“It’s important to teach not simply the historical event, but the lessons that grew out of the Holocaust: lessons on tolerance, lessons in the opposition to bigotry and xenophobia, lessons about the enduring nature of antisemitism,” Kohen said.

The website includes stories of five survivors and liberators, with additional stories planned. In collaboration with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and University Libraries, Dotan and her team enlisted Husker students to help scan, organize and encode nearly 900 items.

Dotan and Kohen examine historical artifacts included in the online collection.

The website launched soon after Nebraska passed legislation requiring schools to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides. To support teachers, Dotan is working with the Nebraska Department of Education to incorporate educational components into the website.

The project has already generated international interest. Dotan anticipates the website will become a model for others and eventually will link to a worldwide network of sites. Numerous community organizations and foundations support the project.

Stories on this scholarly activity and more was featured in the 2021-2022 University of Nebraska–Lincoln Research Report, now available online.

Recent News